Whither the Four Horsemen?

Back when George W. Bush was seeking confirmation for his Supreme Court nominees, there was a group of right-wing Washington insiders known as the “four horsemen” who were at the center of this effort:

The calls start just after 8 every morning, and the participants phone in from just about anywhere. A lawyer speed dials the teleconference line from a taxi as he dashes to a breakfast meeting. A radio evangelist checks in before heading to Atlanta. An old Reagan hand punches in the password from a hotel room while a federalist movement leader calls from his office near the White House.

The daily conference call, in many ways, is indistinguishable from thousands of others occurring inside Washington’s beltway, but with one big difference: This one is shaping the Republicans’ nomination strategy for the Supreme Court and, in consultation with the White House, scripting party-line talking points. The daily call is also the glue for a fragile conservative coalition, from the religious right to the business lobby, that’s smoothing the way for President Bush’s nominee to replace Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

The men, who have been dialing in since 2003, have come to be known as the “Four Horsemen”: C. Boyden Gray, Edwin Meese III, Jay Sekulow, and Leonard Leo. Hand-picked by the White House for their ties to disparate conservative groups, they have been instrumental in helping the president name strict constitutionalists to the federal bench–and now they hope to do the same on the nation’s highest court. “We’ve been waiting for this for four years,” says Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice. And so the Four Horsemen are galloping into this confirmation fight.

This time around, with a Democrat in the White House and Sonia Sotomayor nominated to the Supreme Court, most of these horsemen have been nowhere to be seen.  While Sekulow remains engaged in the process, both Leo and Gray have been relatively absent, though they have spoken out on occasion, while Meese had been seemingly AWOL entirely. 

Or so we thought until we saw this:

Ed Meese is at it again.

The Reagan-era attorney general, beloved by conservatives but long reviled by many liberals, is playing an important behind-the-scenes role in coordinating opposition to Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor.

From his perch at the conservative Heritage Foundation, the 77-year-old Edwin Meese III has been meeting with a network of right-of-center lawyers, buttonholing Republican senators and preaching the same message he’s been delivering since the 1980s: judges should follow the Constitution and not push a liberal agenda from the bench.

“He’s been very influential in his meetings on Capitol Hill and behind-the-scenes working with leading legal lights,’’ said Gary Marx, executive director of the Judicial Confirmation Network, which has been echoing Meese’s message with regular public blasts against Sotomayor.

“All of us feel like we stand on the shoulders of giants who have come before us, and clearly Meese is one of those giants and a conservative icon,’’ Marx added.

Interestingly, we’ve read lots of coverage about the Right’s efforts to coordinate its opposition to Sotomayor but have never even so much as seen Meese’s name mentioned very often.  Frankly, that is not surprising because presumably the Right doesn’t really want its anti-Sotomayor efforts to be too compromised by knowledge that the man who played in central role in nominating Robert Bork to the Supreme Court is now playing a similar role in opposing Sotomayor.